Yes, it’s true. Debt collectors can now contact consumers on social media. Here’s the background and all you need to know about what debt collectors can and can’t do on social media.
In November 2021, The CFPB made some long-awaited updates to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA was enacted by congress in 1977, so the standards regarding communication between debtors and collectors were not up to speed with modern technologies. The new rules open up more avenues for collectors to communicate with debtors while still protecting consumers from unfair debt collection practices. While the FDCPA, including these new regulations, doesn’t apply to business-to-business collections, we believe it is important to follow the spirit of these laws while conducting our business-to-business collection activity.
What are the new rules regarding social media contact?
- Debt collectors can contact consumers on social media, but only through private messages. If the message is viewable by the public or by your friends on the platform, the message is not allowed. This generally restricts collectors to contact via direct message.
- If the debt collector contacts you on social media, they must identify themself as a debt collector. As was true before the recent updates to the FDCPA, they are also required by law to tell you certain information about your debt, including the creditor’s name, the amount owed, and the fact that you can dispute the debt.
- The collector must give you the option to opt out of future communication on that social media platform.
- Collectors can attempt to join your network by sending you a friend request.
What to make of these new rules?
Most people seem to agree with CFPB’s former president Kathleen L. Kraninger, who approved the change last year noting that it was important that the laws from over 40 years ago were updated for the digital age. Generally, it seems like this new avenue to reach people is positive.
Many people won’t answer a phone call that comes from a number they don’t know. Many people don’t have voicemail boxes set up or they are full. This makes it difficult for debt collectors to let people know that they have an issue to resolve. A DM is a new, quick way to make initial contact. Actually resolving the problem will probably require a phone conversation, but the DM can get that process started. A DM can also be a good way to communicate updates and reminders, so again, both sides can find this a positive tool.
If consumers don’t want to deal with their debt, they can opt-out of social media communication and then the debt collector has the option of litigation, but many people do want to deal with their problems and social media is often the best way to communicate with people.
Some consumer advocates have expressed concerns that the new rules could expose people to phishing scams. Since the specifics of the opt-out method is left up to the collector, the concern here is that scammers could send messages posing as collectors, requesting that the consumer click a link to opt-out of further messages. Luckily, social media platforms always give users the option to block other users from messaging them. We would recommend blocking the user as a mode to stop communication rather than clicking any hyperlink from an unverified sender.
Concerns have also risen that the new social media rules are too invasive, or that they might encourage misconduct or make it easier for debt collectors to harass people. Successful debt collectors know that harassment is not only illegal, but it doesn’t have a high success rate. If you are being harassed by a debt collector or they are ignoring your requests to cease contact via social media, you have the right to report them.
Who do these laws apply to?
These new CFPB rules apply only to consumer collections, not business-to-business collections. Our B2B agency has not used Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter direct messaging prior to the new law, although we occasionally used LinkedIn since its purpose is business networking.
For B2B, we also don’t have the same language or opt-out requirements as consumer collectors, although we will tend to honor them. We always communicate professionally and openly about who we are and why we are contacting them.
Just as in all of our methods of communication, if someone asks us to stop communicating via DM we will attempt to confirm alternative electronic communication methods. If we cannot confirm a different contact method or the debtor says “don’t contact me”, we’ll kindly let them know the consequence, which is that we will have no other option but to send the file to the contingency attorney. That is their choice, and we respect that, even though it typically is not in the debtor’s best interest. We want to make sure debtors are aware of the alternatives, and we always strive to work with debtors to resolve the problem in the least painful way possible.
Here at The Kaplan Group, we are grateful that the law has been modified to make it clear that private messages are permitted. We know there are some bad actors in our industry who break the law. We know that there are scammers who will add DM to their arsenal of dirty tricks. But most debts, debtors and debt collectors are legitimate, and this gives all of them another way to work together to resolve the problem, which is a good thing in our opinion.